The Lisztian Leslie

I speak of a prolific Lisztian exponent on the 204th birth anniversary of the great composer on October 22, 1811. The Australian whose recordings of Franz Liszt are legendary is Leslie Howard. Leslie Howard 2009In 1986, to mark the centenary of Franz Liszt’s death, he gave a series of ten Liszt recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall. By excluding Liszt’s arrangements (fantasies and transcriptions) of other composers’ works, and by selecting only the final versions of Liszt’s original works for solo piano, Howard was able to represent Liszt’s entire solo piano oeuvre in ten mammoth recital programmes.  He has been described by The Guardian as “a master of a tradition of pianism (that is) in serious danger of dying out”.                                                                                                              b. April 29, 1948

The series ran at first to 94 full-length CDs, and earned Howard a place in the Guinness Book Of Records for completion of the largest recording project ever undertaken by a solo recording artist (including pop artists). (The second volume of works for piano and orchestra included a bonus disc, not counted in the series numbering, which contained Ungarische Zigeunerweisen, a work for piano and orchestra by Liszt’s favourite female student Sophie Menter: Liszt’s exact involvement in the work is unknown, but he probably helped Menter in the composition of the solo part in the year before his death; the work was orchestrated seven years later by Menter’s friend Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who conducted Menter in the premiere the following year).
The last disc of the Liszt series was recorded in December 1998, and released on October 22, 1999, Liszt’s birthday anniversary. Since completion of the project, three supplementary volumes were released (the third of which is a double CD) as further Liszt manuscripts came to light. The total number of CDs in the series is now 99.
A boxed set containing all 99 discs was issued by Hyperion Records in 2011 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Liszt. On a personal note, I have in my CD collection Leslie’s recording for Hyperion of The Late Pieces, a total of 30 pieces many of which are seldom heard on the concert stage. Of note are first recordings of 3 pieces – Abschied: Russisches Volkslied, Der blind Sanger, and Ungarns Gott.
For your delectation, I’ve selected one of my favorites, St. Francis Walking on the Water, in which the ebb and flow of the waves is portrayed realistically: it is performed here by Leslie Howard in this YouTube recording: Legende No 2 St Francois de Paule, S175.
Another pianist, who knows his Liszt instinctively, is the young Swiss-Chinese phenom, Louis Schwizgebel whose performance of Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s song Der Erlkoenig is astonishing in its authenticity: Der Erlkoenig.

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